Process Improvement (Six Sigma)
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
There's common belief that IT is the solution to every business problem. However, having worked in the industry for almost a decade, I can assure you that it is a misconception; and this, in truth, is why Business Analysis exists- to confirm whether or not technology could solve an identified business problem by performing Root Cause Analysis (RCA) such as Problem statements, Ishikawa Fishbone Diagrams and 5-Whys techniques.
I was once contracted to analyse a company’s current system. The managers complained that the current system was lagging and asked that I recommend a new system. But before I jumped onboard the "shiny new system" train, I conducted an RCA, which showed that even though the current system was bad, the major problem was with the current process- it was just as bad. Besides, it's always more cost-effective to improve a process than to build a new system.
The RCA I had conducted showed process flaws such as variations in services, as different parts of the company worked differently and in silos, giving the end-consumers varying user experiences. Therefore, the system that had been built for one goal, was being forced to achieve more, due to the different ways of working in the company.
What is Six Sigma?
Six sigma is a Problem Identification, Quality Assurance and Process Improvement framework, which when applied accurately, promises 99.9996% accuracy, which translates to about 4 faults/flaws out of 1 million opportunities. This means that about 4 out of 1 million Starbucks coffees will be of low quality; that about 4 out of 1 million planes will crash; and that you can be sad for only 4 days out of 1 million days (I wish! Six sigma doesn't work on humans but you get the concept).
How is Six Sigma Applied?
Say I got contracted by Royal Mail (RM) for a Business Improvement project for an existing problem. I would apply Six Sigma:
Existing process: I would use DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control)
New process: I would use DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyse, Derive, Validate)
D = Define
This is where I would describe the problem on ground using techniques such as Problem Statements, or Business Scenarios. The aim is to capture the What, Why, When, Where, How it occurred, How often it occurred in as much details. Another technique that can be used is the SIPOC, which helps to give a high-level view of the target process to be worked on, as well as to understand who is involved in the process (for further questioning). SIPOC represents Supplier (who brings an input that triggers the process), Input (the actual input), Process (what happens to converts the input to output), Output (the result after the conversion), Customer (the recipient of the output). Using the Royal Mail example, my SIPOC would be:
Due to the above, I know that I must collate pain-points and expectations from the Sender, Recipients, Royal Mail and that I must inspect the Pick-up, Sorting, Transfer and Delivery processes for flaws.
M = Measure
At the stage, the focus would be on capturing as much data as possible using techniques such as Observation, Shadowing, Gemba Walk (experiencing), surveys, interviews and focus groups. The aim of this stage is to document work breakdowns such as Flowcharts, Value Stream Maps (VSM) and preferably a Process Flows (using bpmn).
With the Royal Mail example, my target would be to document data such as, how many staff work daily, how many posts come in/go out, how long it takes to move a post from sender to recipient, how many contractors work, number of drivers, available time, how long it takes mails from London & Scotland to get to the Manchester branch for sorting, number of customer complaints, etc.
This is the evidence I need to back-up any transformation that may occur in the future, hence the reason this data is crucial.
A = Analyse
This is the stage where I would try to understand, gain insight into or make sense of the data to identify trends. An example of things I could notice is that deliveries take 4 days (average) during the weekends & 2 days (average) during weekdays (due to less staff not working on weekends), that RM spends a lot of money on contract staff, that there is low staff morale due to heavily manual sorting processes, that mails from London and Scotland take too long to reach the Manchester branch, etc
I = Improve
Here, I would have sessions with Solution experts on identified problems to provide solutions such as buying more machineries to reduce the heavily manual process, identifying a new warehouse closer to London and Scotland for sorting, offering staff more incentives for weekend shifts so RM spends less on contractors, reducing staff participation on less busy days like Mondays (as no posts are received on Sundays).
I would perform a Business Transformational Risk Assessment (BTRA) to identify potential risks that might negatively impact the roll-out of the new process. This could include identifying staff who may lose their jobs, and arranging for them to be moved to another section.
C = Control
At this stage, I would identify influencers in the company and make them the process owners, which would encourage their followers/friends to welcome the transformation project brewing. I would come up with strategies to ensure that the process doesn't deviate from standards. I would identify Key Performance Indicators to allow the company to track and monitor the process, in order to easily identify when new improvements have to be made to sustain the process (Agile thinking).
Process Improvement is by far one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of Business Analysis because you get to see immediate benefits to the business through increased staff moral, more competitive edge, cost-savings to the business and greater customer experience.
As a BA, it is your job to challenge status quo. Always have evidence to back up why you are making a recommendation- it should never be gut feel, especially when money will be spent on the solution. An ethical BA is a capital micro-manager, which means you must ensure to explore other solutions first, before accepting that Technology is the answer.
As usual leave any questions, suggestions, contrary opinions below.